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Nairobi - Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Monday he was confident of winning outright in the first round of the presidential election on March 4 - his third bid for the top job.
“I am very confident I'll be able to win in the first round,” he said in an exclusive interview with AFP, saying he hoped for “free and fair elections” that will not be marred by the violence that erupted five years ago after the previous vote.
“Last time round the people felt cheated. People rioted in protest... We do hope that with the proper safeguards this time will be different,” he said.
His optimism comes as the United Nations has warned of an “increase in violence” ahead of the vote.
Odinga, who has just turned 68, ran in the 1997 election, coming third after Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, the current president.
He ran again in 2007 but his adversary Kibaki was declared the victor.
Odinga disputed the election results and Kenya sank into an unprecedented cycle of violence that left 1 200 dead and more than 600 000 displaced.
An international mediation eventually yielded a coalition government, with Kibaki as president and Odinga as prime minister.
Despite indications that politicians in some parts of the country are sowing local ethnic or land disputes, Odinga, sporting a navy suit and glossy black shoes and sitting under a photo of himself with US President Barack Obama, said he does not expect a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007 vote.
Asked why tribalism plays such an important role in Kenyan politics, where a majority of voters cast their ballots along ethnic lines, he said the media were partly to blame for trying “to stereotype people”.
“Kenyans now see themselves as Kenyans, members of the Kenyan nation, not as representatives of various groups,” said Odinga, looking tired and drawn as his advisors bemoaned a particularly heavy schedule this week.
On the walls of his suite of offices portraits of himself, his father - the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a prominent politician - and anti-colonial rebel leader Dedan Kimathi jostle for space with the pictures that the late conservationist Joy Adamson painted of the different tribes of Kenya.
The United Nations's top humanitarian official in Kenya, Modibo Toure, warned this month of concern over an “increase in violence”, as more than 450 people were killed and nearly 112 000 people fled their homes in 2012.
The race to replace Kibaki, who is stepping down after two terms, is between Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta.
Adding to tensions is the fact that Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto both stand accused before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of orchestrating murder, rape and violence after the last polls.
Without citing the two by name, Odinga accused Kenyatta and Ruto of trying to hijack the poll and turn the ICC into an election issue.
“There was an attempt by certain individuals accused by the ICC to try to make the elections an ICC issue. It was a futile attempt which has failed miserably,” he said.
The trials, set to begin on April 10-11, could clash with a runoff if no candidate wins outright in the first round.
Kenyatta, who protests his innocence but says he will co-operate with the ICC, has accused the international community in campaign rallies of “wanting to impose their thoughts and will on the Kenyan people” through the trials.
Odinga also expressed his gratitude towards France for its military intervention against Islamist extremists in Mali.
The game-changing French air raids against Islamists occupying Mali's vast desert north complement efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), whose members have pledged to send troops to help Malian forces root out Islamist fighters, he said.
“Ecowas has intervened there. The French intervention there is basically a complement to the efforts of Ecowas to push back the extremists and to create peace and civil order,” he told AFP.
Asked what he would prioritise if he wins the election, Odinga said: “Food, education, jobs... I want to make the country self-sufficient in food production.”
He said he would cut the salary of the president and the vice-president. However, when pressed on the size of the cut, he said he did not have the figures to hand. - Sapa-AFP